A trimaran drone boat given the appropriately formidable moniker ‘Sea Hunter’ has officially become part of the U.S. Naval Fleet after completing two years of testing by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA). The boat is the first of its kind to be publicly adopted for use by any military, and its autonomous capabilities mean that no crew is necessary to man and operate the ship.
The 132-foot vessel’s name is a bit misleading, according to a statement from DARPA. Because it will be rare that any human will be aboard the ship, it’s not currently equipped with any weapons. Its primary function is to track submarines, not disable them, at least for now. With the ability to travel hundreds and even thousands of miles across open waters over a time frame spanning months, expect for these drone ships to become increasingly prevalent within the global naval waterscape.
The Office of Naval Research, which is now in possession of the drone ship after taking over from DARPA, has given it its own name: Medium Displacement Unmanned Surface Vehicle (MDUSV), as opposed to the previous, equally long-winded title ‘Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV’.
What do you say we just stick with Sea Hunter?
Leidos, a commissioned defense contractor, began constructing the ship in 2014, with DARPA taking over speed testing in April 2016. The ultimate price tag was less than one might expect, coming in at $20 million. While the Office of Naval Research continues to test and perfect autonomous behaviors and sensors that would allow the Sea Hunter to operate more intelligently, the water-bound branch of the military has already said that it expects the drone ship to become a “new class of vehicle”.
The ship’s two outrigger floats and streamlined body design allow stability and aerodynamics that afford its 140-ton frame the ability to reach speeds of 27 knots. It also comes equipped with a ‘TALON-elevated sensor mast’, a parasail-like blend of surveillance, intelligence, and sensor packages that aids its purpose of tracking subs. The mast is dragged behind the ship at 1,500 feet above sea level, scouring the waters for signs of U-boat life. The Sea Hunter’s stealth, lack of human life to be threatened, and versatility make it an invaluable piece in the military chess game for the Navy going forward.
The U.S. military has talked about the strategic importance of replacing ‘king’ and ‘queen’ pieces on the maritime chessboard with lots of ‘pawns, said Fred Kennedy, head of DARPA’s tactical technology.